Bad website design gives no advantage to UK travel agents

An analysis of 115 travel websites belonging to members of the UKs largest travel industry consortium, Advantage Travel Centres, has shown that only 12 per cent scored well for search engine optimization (SEO), with bad website design blamed for the poor results.

Conducted by technology consulting firm Click With Technology (CWT), the survey found the majority of the groups independent agents’ suffered from such bad website design that most did not appear in Google, MSN or Yahoo! searches for travel websites.

With more than 750 independent agents and an annual group turnover of more than £2 billion per year, Advantage Travel Centres is a high-profile UK travel and tourism consortium offering packaged holidays, cruises and flight tickets throughout the UK.

According to CWT head of marketing Dan Caplin, many Advantage Travel Centres members websites were so badly designed that many did not even contain telephone numbers, while 35 per cent of the sites surveyed did not have enough reciprocal links pointing to their domain to maximise SEO1.

Being part of such a large travel network, this last point is particularly surprising.

An examination of the Advantage Travel Centres members indexed travel website pages showed that only 49 per cent of sites scored well in this area as well.

According to Mr Caplan, most users only look at the first page of a Google or Yahoo! search, with many people not looking past the first five listings.

The survey highlights the problem of badly designed websites, and poor website maintenance, and the blasé approach many people take to what is a key component of their marketing.

SEO and the correct use of keywords is as vital to any company’s internet presence and marketing as a bank account is to the operation of a business.

Despite this, many people look for the cheapest option when it comes to creating their internet presence from both a website content and a website design stand point.

Google – indisputable king of the search engine market. Image Search Engine Watch
Google – indisputable king of the search engine market. Image Search Engine Watch

While there are numerous search engines crawling the internet, the lions share of the English language search engine market is indisputably “owned” by Google.

According to the Hitwise Search Engine Analysis Tool, Google searches accounted for 69.17 per cent of all US searches for the four weeks ending June 28, 2008, well ahead of it’s nearest rival Yahoo! search, which received just 19.62 per cent.

In the UK Google searches accounted for 87 per cent of all UK searches in June 2008, compared to 4 per cent for Yahoo! searches, while in the Australian market Google search dominated again with an 88 per cent share of the market compared to second place-getter MSN search, which accounted for 7 per cent of all searches2.

With such a dominant market share it makes sense that owners and designers of websites optimise their sites for Google’s web crawler.

Despite the fact that there are many good SEO tools available that people can use for free, many web designers, web masters, and content managers fail to make use of them.

In an ever competitive market the use of these SEO tools is vital if a company is to stand out from its competitors.

While well written, grammatically correct text is a must, consideration also has to be given to including selected keywords and phrases in the text itself, along with meta tags, alt descriptions, etc to maximise search engine results.

Again, there are numerous online wesbite tools available for free that will provide you with an overview of what web crawlers, or web spiders, see when they index your website, as well as what keyword terms or phrases are detected and the density of those words.

For travel industry websites there is little use trying to gain search engine ranking with keywords such as “travel agency”, “online travel agency”, “travel”, “airline tickets” or “cheap airline tickets”.

If these are the only keywords that web crawlers find on your site then your internet presence is largely wasted.

A quick examination of the above phrases returns the following results in Google: travel agency, 29 million; online travel agency, 7.5 million; travel, 1.3 billion; airline tickets, 51.7 million; and cheap airline tickets, 6.7 million.

Similarly, a furniture manufacturer needs better keywords than ‚Äúfurniture‚Äù (346 million results), ‚Äúwooden furniture‚Äù (2.34 million results), or ‚Äúoutdoor furniture” (8.1 million results).

Funnily enough though, such useless keywords are often the only ones found on many companies websites.

I was recently asked on three separate occassions, with the prospect of ongoing work dangled in front of me each time, to examine the website for 1staudiovisual.co, an English company based in Thailand selling cheap televisions and electronic items into the UK, Australia and the Thailand market.

After spending considerable time analysing 1staudiovisual.co’s website, the surprising find was that it’s most common keywords, apart from meaningless gibberish referring to television models, were: “lcd” “plasma”, “interest”, “cheap televisions”, and “pound” as in the English currency.

A further examination of the 1staudiovisual.co website showed no three or four-word keyword phrases.

1staudiovisual.co took this information, which took several hours to compile, along with a detailed outline on the costs and methods to improve this situation and I have heard nothing more from them since. Thank you very much.

The point to all this is that use of some simple analytical tools will enable web designers and content managers to refine their text to include commonly searched for terms and phrases and make informed decisions on what keywords they should be competing for in organic search results.

Ideally between three and five keyword terms or phrases should be targeted and interwoven into the text to obtain a keyword density of around 2.5. Over use of the same keywords can lead to search engines penalising a site for keyword stuffing.

There is little point though in performing even this level of SEO if, when people land on your site, they cannot easily find contact information, as in the case of the Advantage Travel/CWT results cited above.

Alarmingly the same CWT survey found that only 29 per cent of the Advantage Travel Centre’s sites surveyed did a good job of displaying prices and offers.

It makes no sense that a company or organisation establishes an internet presence and then makes it difficult for visitors to either contact it, or find out such important information as pricing or product specifications.

While many companies boast of having a web site, the simple fact as highlighted in this survey is that many of those sites are of questionable value to their owners, or to the people who visit them.

Ends:
© John Le Fevre, 2008

Sources:
1 http://www.travelmole.com/stories/1131714.php?mpnlog=1&m_id=s~dnvY!~A
2 http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/080715-152041

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Internet • Internet marketing • Technology • Tourism/travel • UK travel agents • Travel websites • Internet advertising • Website design • 1staudiovisual • SEM • SEO • British travel agents • website optimization
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John Le Fevre

Deputy editor, Thailand & GMS editor at The Establishment Post

John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 35 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and copy editor.

He is currently deputy editor and Thailand / GMS region editor for The Establishment Post

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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